This is what you need to know about how those propositions get on your ballot.
Supporters of statewide ballot initiatives face a Thursday deadline to file hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify for the November election.
But the coronavirus pandemic has upended the usual process of collecting signatures from voters in public spaces like libraries or on college campuses — the sort of places now deserted due to public health precautions.
While that doomed some campaigns, others got creative, hosting drive-thru events for voters to sign petitions, making house calls and dispatching bigger armies of mask-wearing signature gatherers using disposable pens.
By adapting — or just getting an early start — campaigns might still get proposals in front of voters in November to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and change criminal sentencing laws, increase funding for education and boost pay for many front line health care workers.
Filing day is just one step toward the ballot, though.
Campaigns are bracing for legal challenges from opponents who want to keep these initiatives away from voters. And some of these initiatives could lead to very expensive, hard-fought “yes” and “no” campaigns. But the pandemic has not managed to totally squelch Arizona’s process of direct democracy.
Andrew Chavez, owner of the company Petition Partners, withdrew his crews of signature gatherers from the field for several days in late March. Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order a few days later but constitutionally protected activities were exempt, and Chavez said he sought to create new procedures that would work in the era of social distancing.
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The company eventually got staff back into the field equipped with masks, lots of pens and coroplast boards that act like clipboards that can be cleaned off easily.
“I bought 300,000 pens,” Chavez said.
As many Arizonans avoid crowds, it takes more time to get the same number of signatures that could have been expected in a day just a few years ago, he added.
“It’s not going to be what it was,” Chavez said.
All of this means the cost of collecting signatures has also risen this year, just about doubling, he added.
But it might pay off for the campaigns that have hung in there through the pandemic.
Four ballot measures still circulating
Among the major initiatives that have been collecting signatures is the Invest in Education Act, which seeks to raise nearly $1 billion for education by taxing the state’s wealthiest residents. It has benefited from a network of support among educators, with volunteers hosting a packed schedule of drive-thru signings.
Smart and Safe Arizona, which would legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults, previously reported that it has more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot after starting its efforts in the fall, but it is still collecting signatures.
Canvassers say the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act, which proposes changes to state sentencing laws, has benefited from heightened interest in the criminal justice system.
“That campaign has, in the last six weeks or so, caught fire at a grassroots level,” said Stacey Pearson, a political consultant who is working on all three campaigns. “The overall need for criminal justice reform is just top of mind right now.”
There is also the Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act, which backers argue would protect Arizonans from surprise medical billing and improve pay for many front-line health care workers, who have become the heroes of the pandemic.
Campaigns proposing an initiative that would change state statute must gather at least 237,645 from voters but usually plan to collect far more given that opponents of a measure are likely to challenge signatures in court. Supporters said the marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform initiatives will both be submitted with more than 400,000 signatures.
Still, backers of these ballot measures expect opponents will challenge them in court, and it could be another couple months before judges decide which initiatives actually end up on the ballot.
“We knew that we could grind this out,” Pearson said of the initiatives adjusting to the new realities of campaigning in a pandemic. “You could have somebody posted up in front of a Safeway and get a signature or so an hour. What we didn’t expect is people asking us to come to their door.”
Pandemic stopped some campaigns
Several major campaigns have already folded, recognizing there was little chance of gathering the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot if they could not mobilize volunteers as usual and if the cost would only rise of hiring companies to do the job.
Those campaigns included Arizonans for Fair Elections, which proposed a slew of changes to the state’s election laws, including automatic voter registration and tougher restrictions on lobbying.
Save Our Schools Arizona, which proposed tightening the rules on the state’s voucher program, also suspended campaigning but threw its support behind Invest in Ed and the sentencing reform campaign.
Some of these campaigns filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking a judge require that the state allow the initiative supporters to use an online portal voters can already use to sign the nominating petitions of candidates for state office.
A court rejected that request, though the Secretary of State’s Office said it would work to accommodate the campaigns.
Opponents of the idea argued, however, that the campaigns had waited too long to collect signatures and would have been able to gather the required number if they had started sooner.
Contact Andrew Oxford at email@example.com or on Twitter at @andrewboxford.
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